Sometimes, it can be a pleasure to read a judge’s verdict. Sometimes, it’s clear, common sense.
So we’ve included an excerpt from Judge Wayne Gorman’s recent decision in a double drunk-driving case in Corner Brook, N.L. in this editorial, a case where the accused claimed her rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms had been infringed.
But first, a bit of background: Const. Geoffrey Heffernan received a report that an impaired driver might be making her way through Corner Brook in a grey Ford Focus. He pulled over a vehicle matching that description and took Amanda Blackmore to the station, where she failed the breathalyser. When she was released, she told Heffernan she was headed for the nearby town of Deer Lake. He offered to call a cab for her, but she declined.
Just 30 minutes later, a different police officer, patrolling the area where Blackmore’s locked car had been left, found Blackmore driving again. She failed the breathalyser again.
When the case came to court, Blackmore argued her Charter rights had been infringed because Heffernan didn’t have a reason to pull her over in the first place. Her lawyer argued that the traffic stop was an arbitrary detention, and that her Charter rights were violated because there were not reasonable grounds to make a breathalyser demand. Those are among the regular challenges made in drunk-driving cases – and regularly, right across the country, they wind up having charges halted.
Judge Gorman can be an outspoken judge. He dismissed the Charter challenge, saying, “In assessing a police officer’s actions in a constitutional context it can at times be useful to ask what we, as a society, expect of our police officers. In this case I would suggest that Canadians would have expected Constable Heffernan to investigate a possible impaired driver. I would go further. I would suggest that Constable Heffernan had a duty to stop Ms. Blackmore’s vehicle after having received the earlier report. Anything less on his part would have been a serious dereliction of duty.
“Requiring the police to wait until they see signs of improper driving before checking or stopping a vehicle that they have become suspicious of (when their suspicion has an objectively ascertainable basis) is a requirement that would subject the public to unnecessary danger. In these types of cases it is better to err on the side of caution. It is better to find out that the officer’s suspicion was unwarranted than to allow a possible impaired driver to proceed. It must not be forgotten that the police are involved in a pre-emptive attempt ‘to catch the drinking driver at the roadside and not at the scene of the accident.’”
There are too many drunk-driving accidents and deaths in this country. Sometimes, it seems like an uphill battle to convict the drivers involved.
Plain language can be a wonderful thing.